Tech by VICE

This Is How the FAA's Mandatory Drone Registration Program Will Likely Work

Anyone who buys a drone—even a toy one—will have to register it with the federal government.

by Jason Koebler
Nov 23 2015, 4:39pm

Image: Budi Nusyirwan/Flickr

Since it was announced last month, the drone hobbyist community has been wondering how the Federal Aviation Administration is going to implement its mandatory drone registration program. Monday, the agency released a list of formal recommendations from the task force it asked to help set up the program.

These recommendations could change before they're formally implemented but here's where we stand currently: Anyone older than 13 who purchases a drone that weighs more than 250 grams and is going to be flown in the United States will be required to tell the FAA that they have a drone using a web-based portal. They will be required to give their name and address, with a drone serial number, phone number, and email address being suggested but not necessary.

Drone owners will not have to give the FAA any information about the type of aircraft they have purchased, but the owner will get a registration number and will be required to affix that number to every drone they have. If you own more than one drone, you'll have the same registration number for each drone. Registration will be free.

There are still some open questions. The task force doesn't say what will happen if someone younger than 13 buys a drone (i.e. it doesn't say if their parents will be required to register it), and it doesn't specifically mention homemade drones, though presumably they will be subject to the rules as well.

Last month, the FAA created a task force to tackle this problem, which included members from major retailers, drone manufacturers, lobbying and hobby groups, and safety and law enforcement officials. It's still unclear whether the FAA will be able to make the registration requirements official before Christmas, as it has said it wants to. It's also unclear whether the FAA has the authority to do this—but the agency is going to go ahead and do it anyway.

"It was outside the scope of the Task Force's objectives to debate or discuss the Department of Transportation Secretary's decision to require registration of [drones] or the legal authority for the implementation of such a mandate," the task force wrote in its recommendations.

"The task force recommendations may ultimately prove untenable by requiring the registration of smaller devices that are essentially toys and do not represent safety concerns"

Though the task force issued its recommendations very quickly (especially for a government proceeding), it appears as though there was plenty of infighting about the burden that the registration program may present drone owners, as noted in the official task force report. Some people on the task force suggested that requiring the registration of such light drones could undermine the program altogether.

"The weight could negatively impact the credibility of the sUAS registration program and thus lessen compliance levels because it would require registration of some sUAS generally considered to be in the 'toy' category," the task force wrote.

The Academy of Model Aircraft, a model aircraft hobbyist group with more than 185,000 members, slammed the registration process in an email sent to its members and the press Monday.

"As written, these recommendations would make the registration process an unnecessary and unjustified burden to our 185,000 members," Dave Mathewson, executive director of the group, said in a statement. "For this reason, AMA wanted to include dissenting comments in the final task force report, but was prevented from doing so."

"The task force recommendations may ultimately prove untenable by requiring the registration of smaller devices that are essentially toys and do not represent safety concerns," he added. "Safety has been the cornerstone of our organization for over 80 years and, with our stellar safety record, AMA's members strive to be a part of the solution. However, the solution should not involve our members bearing the burden of new regulations."

Clarification: This article and its headline has been updated to make it more clear that the Department of Transportation could alter the recommendations before they are formally implemented.